Dear Rebbetzin Chaya-
A friend asked me to do a job for her, which I did before we agreed on an exact price. It was not an easy job, but she was desperate and I was glad to be able to help. Then suddenly she told me that she didn’t have money to pay me and thanked me for the chesed I selflessly did for her. I was so shocked that I didn’t respond, nor to all her texts and emails since, acting like nothing has happened. At some point I need to address this. If she’s oblivious to what’s wrong with this picture, how will my telling her about it help? I feel so uncomfortable and helpless here. What should I do?
Feeling Taken Advantage Of
What a tough situation for you to be in. You were just trying to help and it looks like now not only have you have lost time and money, you are in a difficult position with a friend. It is an old truism that when lending money to a friend or family member one should always be prepared for it to be a gift, to prevent situations like this one. While I imagine that you have learned an unpleasant lesson for the future, you are still stuck in a bit of a conundrum for the present. I am assuming that the amount of money being owed is significant, but not enough that there is any question of legal recourse.
Some points to ponder to help you figure out your next steps:
What is the history of this friendship? Did this actually not surprise you at all? Looking back, does this friend regularly take advantage of people and use them? Do you see a pattern of selfishness? On sincere reflection, does this friendship bring mostly negativity into your life? If so, you have two options. The first one is to confront her: “Hey-I was confused when you thanked me for doing a chesed for you. I thought we had agreed that you would pay me for the work. I think a fair amount would be x. I understand it might take some time to get that together, please either tell me a time by which you can have that, or let’s plan on weekly installments until you can pay it.”
The other option, if this is truly a friendship that brings more negativity then it’s worth, is to just chalk it up to life experience, and let the friendship and the money go.
However, is it possible that this was out of character? If so, can you chalk it up to her having a crisis moment, and give her another chance? Or even ask yourself, what could be going on to make her act in this way? Could you find a way to have a conversation that is an honest check-in with her: “Hey, I was a little confused because I thought we had agreed that you were going to pay for this. What’s going on? Is everything OK?”
You could even follow that up with a gently worded request to make a plan for paying you back, but it would be cushioned by genuinely coming from a place of caring and not anger.
You may find that she is oblivious or devious, or in fact, she may be mortified and struggling, and you reaching out to her is throwing her a lifeline.
Short of that, can you find it in yourself to give her a fresh start? Was this friendship a meaningful and important one to you, one that you don’t want to lose? Or is this someone that you will by default see on a regular basis, because of mutual friends or car-pool or playdates? Can you decide that you won’t agree to any favors or loans, nor will you have a big heart to heart, but take baby-steps towards normal interactions?
One final thought–there is no right or wrong here. So much is dependent on this friendship and your personality. Some people could never live with themselves if they let a significant sum of money go for the sake of friendship, and could never forgive someone who treated them in this way. Some people dread the thought of confrontation, and would rather lose the money than have a conversation. As long as you approach this with compassion for yourself, and if possible, an attitude of compassion towards your friend, I think you can’t go wrong.